2021 July/August Newsletter

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Foundation friends,

It’s hard to believe that we’re already heading into the second half of summer. As we wrap up August, planning is underway for several of our favorite fall events including our annual Fall for Fish fundraiser and Kitsap Salmon Tours. What makes planning so exciting this year is that both events will be in person! We’ve learned this past year that connecting people to the outdoors is important, but so is connecting with one another.

We’re especially looking forward to welcoming people back to the Preserve for Fall for Fish. We’re changing up the format and providing donors an opportunity to explore the restoration work underway in Hidden Valley and see where we’ll be building the new bridge and pavilion. If you don’t know the history of Hidden Valley, it’s the site of the historic Hidden Ranch homestead, originally owned by Edward Paschall and his family who sold the original 74 acres of the Preserve in 1915. Hidden Valley is closed to the public while we work on restoration in partnership with the Suquamish Tribe.

Also coming up next month is a dedication event with our newest partner, the Old-Growth Forest Network. The Rhododendron Preserve will be inducted into this national network on September 25th and everyone is welcome to join.
Scroll down to our “More to Explore” section for save-the-date information for all three events. We hope to see you at one soon!

Stay healthy and well,

— Jeff Wirtz
President, Keta Legacy Foundation,
also known as Mountaineers Foundation


A tale of two rhododendrons and what they tell us about healthy ecosystems

Close up of a rhododendron with the bottom half of its leaves drooping and beginning to curl.
Rhododendron in Hidden Valley.
Close up of rhododendron near the base of an old growth tree with sunlight showing through mossy branches. The leaves of the rhododendron are bright and full.
Rhododendron among old growth forest.

Natural systems have a lot to teach us about conservation, recycling, and interrelatedness. You’ve probably noticed how much watering it takes to keep your outdoor plants healthy when there’s no rain. And maybe you’ve wondered how the plants in a forest survive without anyone to take care of them? A pair of rhododendrons growing in different parts of the Preserve will explain.

The first rhododendron is growing in the Hidden Valley section of the Preserve. The second is growing on the edge of the old growth part of the Preserve. Notice that the first rhododendron has its lower leaves drooping and other leaves beginning to look curled. Meanwhile, the second rhododendron’s leaves are firm and fully extended. As the crow flies, these two rhododendrons aren’t very far apart and they’re each growing in proximity to a creek. So why do they look different?

The difference is the health of the ecological system where each is growing. The first rhododendron is growing in an area heavily impacted by humans; a homestead which was occupied until the early 2000s. It’s growing where people have removed the big trees to let in more light to encourage crop growth and have discouraged new trees from growing up and shading out the human-desired plants. Without human intervention, the plants in this area need to employ all their survival adaptations.

The second rhododendron is growing in a nearly undisturbed ecological system where there has been minimal human impact. It’s growing where the system is healthy and not dependent on human intervention.

When water is scarce, plants have the ability to pull water from their leaves and let the leaves droop. Doing this conserves water in the roots and stem until the rain comes again. The rhododendron in Hidden Valley is starting to conserve water this way, while the one near the old growth part of the Preserve doesn’t yet need to take the same measures. Trees, as they breathe, release water vapor. This means where there are more trees, there is more water available to the other plants. In addition, in the healthy ecosystem, the forest canopy keeps too much sun from getting in and heating the air, this slows evaporation. It’s both cooler and moister in the forest, especially in an old growth forest.

When we understand how a healthy ecosystem works, we can make better choices. Rather than cutting down big trees, people can learn to work with – and benefit from – them. Doing so reduces spending on cooling houses and watering plants.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Whale People: Protectors of the Sea exhibit showcases the deep connection between people and the water

Photo taken from behind several dozen people sitting on a green lawn looking towards a brightly colored totem pole resting horizontally on a trailer. The audience appears to be waiting for the speakers to begin their presentations.
Hundreds of people gathered for the opening ceremonies of the Whale People exhibit. The opening ceremony included the appearance of the Red Road to DC Totem.

It’s incredibly rewarding to see our grants in action. Grants Committee Chair Renee Johnson and Education Committee Chair Katha Miller-Winder were able to do just that when they attended the July 10th opening ceremonies for the Whale People exhibit on Vashon Island. With a standing-room-only crowd that clearly exceeded all expectations, the ceremonies included blessings, songs, drumming, dancing, stories, and memories that were deeply moving and emotional.

The Whale People exhibit showcases the deep connection between all people and the water. The event was organized by a coalition of several organizations including the Vashon-based Natural History Museum with the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation. The program was co-sponsored by the Vashon Heritage Museum, Se’Si’Le, Vashon Nature Center, and Vashon Center for the Arts.

The exhibit features a 3,000-pound orca totem carved by the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation and an award-winning, multi-channel, Imax-style film narrated by the late Chief Tsilixw Bill James of the Lummi Nation, Lummi Master Carver Jewell James, and Amy Ta’ah George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation. The film tells the story of the environmental emergency through the figure of the orca and the story of the leadership of Native Nations in protecting the Salish Sea, the orcas, the salmon, and the future of us all. This exhibition has traveled across the country to a number of museums and has come home to the Pacific Northwest.

The opening ceremonies also featured the 25-foot, 5,000-pound Red Road to DC totem pole carved by the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers. This totem pole has been crisscrossing the U.S., spending time at sites where environmental challenges are critical. At each location, it collects the prayers of the people. Tour organizers departed with the totem pole immediately after the ceremony so they could gift it to the Biden-Harris Administration with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland acting for the Administration at an event on July 29th in Washington, D.C.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the exhibit runs through August 28th at the Vashon Heritage Museum.


The natural world offers lessons in beauty and function

There are certain basic shapes that are recognized in nature. These are symmetries, trees, spirals, meanders, waves, foams, tessellations, cracks, and stripes according to Wikipedia. We see these shapes reflected in patterns around and inside us.

If we look, we’ll notice that lightning, rivers, trees, and lungs look similar to airports, cities, and highways. Each of these has a quality of flow as things, (e.g., air, water, planes, cars, etc.) move through it. Nature has created efficient and effective structural systems to manage this flow and when people designed their systems of transportation, they found that using similar structural systems was the most efficient and effective way to move people and vehicles.

Close up of several small rocks atop trickling water. The center rock has a visible pattern of water on top of it that was left by someone’s shoe as they stepped on the rock. The pattern looks leafy or feathery.Our fingerprints and the growth rings of trees, scales, and otoliths also echo one another. These patterns are unique to each individual and yet are recognizably the same. Whether we’re a human being or a giant Douglas Fir tree, we are unique and yet we are the same, all part of the natural world.

Looking at the patterns on the rocks left by damp shoes, what do you see? I am struck by how much the tread pattern resembles leaves. I wonder if the designer was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the shape and pattern leaves make? Natural shapes and patterns are all around us. We encourage you to go out and really look at them. Who knows how you might be inspired?

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Upcoming events and reminders

  • Have you checked out our new education resources page? You’ll find all kinds of fun learning activities including bingo and scavenger hunts at the Rhododendron Preserve, matching games, and videos. You can also complete one of the activities to earn a chance at a prize in the 2021 Kitsap Kids’ Directory Parks and Trail Challenge! The Foundation is proud to support this effort to encourage families to visit all of Kitsap County’s parks and trails. Visit our education resources page, pick your activity, then enter the parks and trail challenge.
  • Calling all work party enthusiasts and citizen scientists! Our friends at Clear Creek Trail regularly host work parties and citizen scientist events. Take a look at their events page for information about upcoming trail work parties, discovery play days, and more.
  • Join us on September 25th at noon at the Big Tree Trailhead to celebrate the induction of the Rhododendron Preserve to the Old-Growth Forest Network! The network’s mission is to create a national network of protected, publicly accessible native forests. There are currently 138 forests in the network. This is an exciting recognition of our conservation work! Dr. Sarah Horsley, Network Manager of the Old-Growth Forest Network, will present a plaque to Foundation president, Jeff Wirtz. After the ceremony, participants will be invited for a hike along Big Tree Trail. Visit the dedication event page for more information.
  • Save the date! Planning is underway for the Foundation’s 2021 Fall for Fish event on October 23rd. Instead of our regular gala, we will offer donors a boxed lunch at the Preserve and small group tours into Hidden Valley to see the return of the salmon, catch a preview of the restoration work underway, and learn about the new bridge and pavilion being built. Ticket information will be available later this summer.
  • They’re coming… and this time in person! We’re excited to announce the return of in-person Kitsap Salmon Tours this year. The kickoff date will be November 6th, so keep your calendar clear. These tours are possible thanks to a partnership with local governments, the Suquamish Tribe, WSU Extension, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and several other conservation nonprofits.

2021 June Newsletter

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Foundation friends,

Summer has started off with historic triple-digit temperatures. While we can’t attribute any one weather event solely to climate change, these are times we’re reminded of the dire consequences of our changing climate. In the Pacific Northwest, we know warming temperatures contribute to things like the spread of diseases and pests, reduced snowpack, and warming waters. The interconnectedness of our ecosystems is why species such as salmon – and the orca that feed on them – are at risk.

Climate change is a global issue that demands bold action from government leaders around the world. However, our local actions play a profound role as well. Our conservation work to promote healthy streams and old-growth forest throughout the Rhododendron Preserve is connected to the health of ecosystems throughout the Salish Sea region and beyond. In fact, we’re working on an exciting new partnership to elevate that work on a national scale. We’ll share more details later this summer, so stay tuned.

Finally, congratulations to the Washington Association of Land Trusts for a successful 2021 NW Land Camp last month. The Foundation was proud to be a leading sponsor for the event which brings together hundreds of conservationists and land trust partners. You can check out the Foundation’s virtual booth here.

Stay healthy and well.

— Jeff Wirtz
President, Keta Legacy Foundation,
also known as Mountaineers Foundation


Within its spiny exterior, Devil’s Club is full of fascinating surprises

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where Devil’s Club, or Oplopanax horridus in Latin, got its name. This plant is armed to the teeth. The stem is densely packed with spines and both the top and bottom of its leaves are coated in spines too. It’s not a plant that you want to tangle with unless you are well protected with heavy gloves and thick clothing.

devils club plant

Yet for all its prickly self-defense mechanism, Devil’s Club is a surprisingly useful and fascinating plant. In traditional Native American medicine, it has been used to treat arthritis, tuberculosis, cancer, wounds, fever, stomach trouble, cough, colds, sore throat, and pneumonia. It is also used for emptying the bowels and causing vomiting, as well as treating lice and even as a deodorant. Western herbalists and pharmaceutical researchers are studying its properties for treating diabetes by regulating blood sugar.

On our Rhododendron Preserve, there is a stand of Devil’s Club adjacent to the trail along Lost Creek. Standing on the trail, you’re able to study this plant’s defenses up close. It’s fascinating to observe Devil’s Club through the seasons, from the naked spine covered stalks in winter to the early growth of spring, the white blooms in early summer, the bright red berries of late summer and early fall, and to the yellowing leaves of autumn when the leaves fall. While greatly loved by bears, the bright red berries are considered poisonous to humans. We invite you to visit the Preserve and, from a safe distance, meet this fascinating plant.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


We Are Puget Sound provides an awe-inspiring experience and call to action

A recently opened photo exhibit at Seattle Aquarium called We Are Puget Sound provides visitors an exquisite look at our region’s beautiful, but endangered ecosystems. The exhibit is based off a book and campaign launched in 2020 that, as described by Washington Environmental Council, “features captivating photography and stories from around our region designed to spark collective and personal action to restore Puget Sound.”

Importantly, the campaign centers the voices of those who are most closely tied to the historic and ongoing preservation of Puget Sound, particularly the Native American Tribes and First Nations who have ancestral ties to the coastal lands and water.

The Foundation has frequently partnered with Braided River, the publisher of We Are Puget Sound, and is proud to support this campaign and this exhibit, which is open through August. You can learn more and preview some of the beautiful images on Seattle Aquarium’s website.


New online resource page will soon offer everything from scavenger hunts to videos

The Foundation’s education committee loves making outdoor education fun and inspiring. We’re always looking for ways to inspire learners of all ages to become good stewards of our air, land, and water. Some of the resources that we’ve created take kids outside, including scavenger hunts, Preserve bingo cards and Family Field Trip Learning Adventures. Other resources bring the outdoors in, including matching games and videos.

nature preserve bingo card

Now, we’re focusing on making outdoor education more accessible. For years, we’ve worked with local schools and community groups to offer these resources, and we want these resources to be available to everyone. Our committee is creating a new online page where educators and families can download any or all of our learning activities. As kids begin their summer vacations and parents look for ways to keep them curious and active, we hope these indoor and outdoor learning adventures spark a love for the outdoors and the healthy ecosystems that we all depend on.

We’ll share the link soon on our Facebook page. Keep an eye on it and help us spread the word with your educator friends and outdoor-loving parents.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Upcoming events and reminders

  • Reminder: The 2021 Kitsap Kids’ Directory parks & trail challenge is still underway and it’s a perfect time to start exploring! The Foundation is proud to be supporting this effort to encourage families to visit all of Kitsap County’s parks and trails. Check out the details here.
  • A remarkable new outdoor film and exhibition called Whale People: Protectors of the Sea is coming to Vashon Heritage Museum on July 10. The film explores how Native Nations are leading efforts to protect the Salish Sea and the orcas and salmon that call the sea their home. The exhibition and IMAX-style film are narrated by the late Chief Tsilixw Bill James of the Lummi Nation, Lummi Master Carver Jewell James, and Amy Ta’ah George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation. This program is organized by The Natural History Museum and co-sponsored by the Vashon Heritage Museum, Se’Si’Le, Vashon Nature Center, and Vashon Center for the Arts. The Foundation is humbled and honored to also help support this event. Learn more here.

Legal Update June 2021

Update about aggressive tactics by The Mountaineers to take over our name, Mountaineers Foundation

Last June, we shared a short update about a legal dispute between Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation since it was founded in 1968, and the similarly-named alpine club known as The Mountaineers.

Our organizations, though separate and independent of one another, have collaborated on numerous educational and conservation efforts over the past decades. We even have people who participate actively in both organizations.

We all share an intense desire to find a mutually-agreeable resolution, but The Mountaineers’ CEO is engaging in aggressive public relations tactics based on false claims that make it harder, not easier, to avoid a drawn-out legal battle. We feel compelled to correct some of the blatant falsehoods we’ve consistently seen in public communications about the matter.

At issue is the right to our legal name, Mountaineers Foundation, registered with both the Internal Revenue Service and Washington Secretary of State. Since our founding in 1968, that name has generated tremendous goodwill and meaning among our donors and supporters, including our many Legacy Donors who have bequeathed funds in support of our conservation work. Even as we added Keta Legacy Foundation in 2018, our legal and public identity as Mountaineers Foundation remains. We have used our Mountaineers Foundation name since we were formed as a nonprofit charitable organization with the Washington Secretary of State on June 24, 1968. Our name is also trademarked by the State of Washington.

Unfortunately and surprisingly, The Mountaineers has started aggressively and illegally using the Mountaineers Foundation name. In 2018, they started using the Mountaineers Foundation name for their own fundraising purposes, going so far as creating a false “Mountaineers Foundation” section on their website and posting that any “bequests intended for The Mountaineers Foundation be directed to The Mountaineers at [The Mountaineers’] Seattle address.” They have also filed trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office claiming it has continuously and exclusively used The Mountaineers Foundation trademark since 1907.

To protect our independent identity and the intent of our donors, the Foundation has sought to stop The Mountaineers from unlawfully using our name and creating confusion and misdirection of donations.

We have sought to resolve this issue amicably, hoping to avoid lengthy litigation. But The Mountaineers’ CEO has regularly engaged in unseemly tactics that compromise the basis for any good-faith negotiations. This includes repeating false claims about our organization and regularly posting misleading information on The Mountaineers’ website.

The most egregious claim we need to correct is about the independence of our organizations.

The Mountaineers continually claims Mountaineers Foundation was created in 1968 as its “nonprofit fundraising arm.” Their website currently states Mountaineers Foundation operated as a “separate licensee” for fundraising and grant-making on their behalf.

This is unequivocally false. The Foundation was not created to serve The Mountaineers and no license exists. We are co-equal organizations that have always been independent of one another. (Notably, it’s actually illegal to lose your tax-exempt status like The Mountaineers did in 1972 and set up another non-profit organization from which to funnel tax-deductible donations for its sole benefit.)

In an effort to protect our donors and correct these misleading statements, we have filed a consumer complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. That office is empowered to act on behalf of the public to prosecute and sanction those who engage in deceptive and dishonest practices when soliciting funds for or in the name of charity.

This is not simply about a similar name. It is about The Mountaineers falsely asserting a right to the Mountaineers Foundation name and using our name to direct our donors to contribute to their organization. And, increasingly, it’s about The Mountaineers’ CEO’s public posturing in ways that undermine any good-faith legal process. Despite repeated public postings about sensitive legal discussions, we have continued to engage respectfully in this process, and we will continue to do so.

We’re certain there’s a constructive and positive path forward, but the fastest way to find it is to engage respectfully with us, not through misleading blog posts. We’re looking forward to a resolution that allows both organizations to continue fulfilling our missions and promoting a love for our outdoor spaces, both as recreationalists and conservationists.

Throughout all of this, our focus continues to be our important preservation and education work. Thank you for your continued support of the Foundation that allows us to promote actions and foster understanding to inspire conservation from the Rhododendron Preserve to the Salish Sea region.

Our New Name

We have added Keta Legacy Foundation to our name though our focus and programs remain unchanged. This name embodies our core values of conservation and connection using a metaphor from salmon life cycles. Keta is the Latin name for chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta), which need healthy ecosystems from the mountains, through forests and streams, and throughout the marine environment. These natural systems also support communities of people with a vested interest in the health and wellbeing of all the residents of our region – people and wildlife That’s why this simple word – keta – captures what we have done as an independent organization since 1968.

Our numerous longtime supporters continue to know us as the Mountaineers Foundation, which has been our legal name since 1968 and remains so today. We are proud of the legacy we built over 50 years as the Mountaineers Foundation, the many supporters who have supported us under that banner, and the work we will continue to do under these names.

While the Foundation sometimes partners with The Mountaineers, a recreation-focused alpine club, and has even contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support some conservation programs of their organization over the past few decades, we have always been separate and independent from one another. Today, more than ever, we remain deeply committed to conservation for everyone, including people fortunate enough to enjoy the mountains and waters of the Salish Sea region.